“The place to be happy is here. The time to be happy is now.” ~Robert G. Ingersoll
In 2014 I changed my whole life.
I quit a horrible job, traveled to Costa Rica and Panama, moved across the country, moved in with my partner, and landed my dream job in an education charity.
Why did I change so much? The answer is simple—happiness.
I had spent three years planning and dreaming of a different future for myself. One where I could travel, have a job I found meaningful, and live with my boyfriend in our own flat. Finally, after one morning too many spent in tears, I built up the courage to quit my job.
I spent the next few months riding on a wave of relief. Everything was going to be all right. I was going to be happy and in love with my life.
The problem was, this didn’t happen.
It soon became clear that I wasn’t experiencing the blissful future that I’d dreamed of. I ended up feeling even worse than I had felt before I changed anything. A sense of dread and helplessness crept over me as I realized that changing your life situation doesn’t automatically make you happier.
There was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
After a month or two of trying to pull myself out of a depression by making plans for a long off future, I started reading what I could about life and happiness. I went back to books I’d started but hadn’t finished and reread old favorites.
As I read and reread these books, I started to notice a pattern. At the heart of all the arguments and instructions in those books were the same two ideas:
1. Be aware of your thoughts so your mind can’t control you.
Learning how to be aware of thoughts rather than letting your mind control you seems to be essential to experiencing lasting happiness. Meditating every day, even just for ten or fifteen minutes, makes it easier to be aware of your thoughts and to learn how to quiet your mind.
For me, being aware of my thoughts has made me more intentional about how I think about things. I now try to look at my life positively and search for solutions to issues rather than worrying about problems that might not even happen.
Being in the present moment also takes the power away from your mind. In the present moment there’s no past to regret and no future to worry about, so you are naturally happier. Though keeping your attention in the present is hard to sustain, it’s simple to try.
Give it a go by focusing what you can see around you right now. What sounds can you hear? What can you smell? What can your body feel? Don’t answer these questions in words, just move your attention to your different senses and acknowledge what they notice.
I’ve now made being aware of my thoughts a daily practice. Instead of reading the news on my phone, I dedicate my ninety-minute commute to meditation and being present.
As I walk to the train station I listen to the birds singing and hear the wind rustling in the trees. On the train I meditate for fifteen minutes before reading a book for the rest of the journey.
How could you incorporate meditation and being present into your daily routine?
*Recommended Reading: The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle
2. Fill your life with things you enjoy now.
This step is more straightforward. There’s an easy process you can follow to complete it. First, you need to write a list of all the times you’ve felt truly, deeply happy. What were you doing? Who were you with? Are there any common themes?
After you identify the common themes that brought you so much joy, fill as much of your day-to-day life with them as possible!
Could you take a walk in nature on your lunch break? Or could you listen to your favorite type of music while cooking dinner? Perhaps you could swap TV time for working on a creative project like crafting, drawing, or writing?
I realized that some of my happiest moments happened outdoors when I was surrounded by nature. So now I’m trying to spend most of my free time outside, inviting friends and family along too so I can spend time with them. I’ve noticed that I’m so much more relaxed and I really look forward to my weekend’s adventures!
Now it’s your turn! What changes can you make to fill your life with joy?
*Recommended Reading: Finding Your Own North Star, by Martha Beck
Making these little changes doesn’t mean that you can’t make a big change in your life. They will just help you to be happier in the process and put less pressure on the end result.
Enjoy the journey along the rainbow and it won’t matter so much how much gold is at the end.